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York developmental psychology professor wins Killam Prize

York developmental psychology professor wins Killam Prize

York University Professor Ellen Bialystok has been awarded the prestigious Killam Prize for outstanding career achievement.

Bialystok, a Distinguished Research Professor in York’s Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health, is known internationally for her research on language, bilingualism and cognitive development. She received the award this morning from the Canada Council for the Arts, which administers the Killam Program.

One of the most important research prizes in the world, the $100,000 Killam Prize is annually awarded to five eminent Canadian scholars for their distinction in health sciences, engineering, humanities, natural sciences and social sciences. Bialystok was recognized for her work in the social sciences category.

Right: Ellen Biaylstok

The first in her field to research claims of cognitive deficits in bilingual children, Bialystok discovered that bilingual children and adults have distinct advantages over unilingual people when completing both linguistic and nonlinguistic tasks. Her research is now revealing that this advantage continues for bilingual people as they age.

She has also been recognized by the international linguistics community for her body of work on theories of language processing and on practical issues related to foreign and second language education.

“The Killam Prize recognizes Professor Bialystok’s groundbreaking contributions to psychology and confirms the international excellence of her achievements,” said York University President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri. “Her success contributes to the growing national and international leadership of York’s faculty in health related-research as they respond to medical, social, and environmental challenges facing Canadians and people around the world.”

Bialystok was awarded a Killam Research Fellowship in 2001. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. In November, she received the York University President’s Award of Merit in recognition of her research contributions.

"Ellen is a remarkable researcher who is so deserving of the Killam Prize," said Stan Shapson, vice-president, research & innovation. "Her work is cited all over the world. She has also received funding from all three of Canada's national funding bodies − the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research − at various points in her career, along with funding from the National Institutes of Health in the United States."

Bialystok has developed new methodologies for studying the role of cognitive processes on second language learning as well as the impact that knowing a second language has on cognitive aging.

“By studying people of all ages, and using both behavioural and neuroimaging approaches, Professor Bialystok is changing our understanding of language acquisition and literacy, as well as cognition and aging," said Faculty of Health Dean Harvey Skinnner. "Her research, and the collaborative research of many other faculty researching developmental and cognitive processes, reflects the Faculty's goals of innovative research that helps keep more people healthier, longer."

Bialystok has recently published research on how bilingualism boosts children’s focus. She has also researched how bilingualism can delay the onset of dementia.

By Janice Walls, media relations coordinator.